A new county executive, and we hope a new St. Louis County

Editorial

Dr. Sam Page is now County Executive Sam Page, the county’s ninth county executive. He will serve until at least Dec. 31, 2020, and a special election to fill the rest of former County Executive Steve Stenger’s term will be held in fall 2020.

Page is not yet sure whether he will run again. That means he could have a short time in office, but he could also be just the prescription that St. Louis County needs to really clean house in St. Louis County government. It’s a promise Stenger made too, but as we now know, what the county executive was doing behind the scenes did not match what he said in public.

It’s a story we’ve seen time and again in various politicians in the 30-year history of The Call. One of the worst things about St. Louis is that politics here can often center around who you are, who you know and who you donate to rather than what’s best for the citizens you govern.

This week as we’ve looked back on campaign questionnaires from 10 years ago, even decades ago, we see the same themes over and over. Candidates promise to clean up Clayton, then get to office and do nothing, or do worse. Then another candidate comes along and promises the same thing.

In the last 20 years of the 6th District County Council seat alone, John Campisi criticized Jeff Wagener for alleged corruption; Stenger criticized Campisi for it; Stenger accused former County Executive Charlie Dooley of it, defeating him; and then Stenger hired Wagener, of Oakville, as his top lieutenant in county government. Ultimately, it appears Wagener wore a wire to take Stenger down.

It all comes full circle, but never changes. Democrat or Republican, it actually doesn’t seem to matter.

No wonder citizens are disillusioned with their government.

We hope that cycle can end with Page. If it does, this can serve as a turning point in the history of St. Louis County government. We wish the new county executive the best.

And ironically, it might mean that Steve Stenger has a lasting impact on changing St. Louis for the better. It’s what he promised when he threw his past campaign promises to the wind and came out in full support of a city-county merger this year.

This editorial page has been critical of Page in the past on the Sunshine Law and his practices for handling public speakers.

That seemed to have improved, but last week the county did not post any notice to its email subscribers list for the emergency meeting in which Page became county executive. He also took no public comments. He said that was all on the advice of County Counselor Peter Krane, who he was planning to force out the next day.

This editorial page has also been critical of Stenger at various times and for various reasons, including his campaign donations, although in hindsight not enough.

We will similarly give Page the chance that he deserves to prove himself as county executive, but we will also hold him accountable for his statements and actions.

In the past, Page has taken campaign donations on the council from developers and projects that he later voted for.

We found it interesting that in light of Stenger’s downfall, Page wouldn’t commit last week to not taking such donations from businesses with county projects. He promised that if he did, those donations wouldn’t impact his decisions in county government — something Stenger promised this newspaper over and over.

And of course, Page has been the main backer of the continued employment of county Auditor Mark Tucker, who in two years has not conducted any actual audits.

We certainly have our concerns, but we hope that Page succeeds in doing what Stenger could not. To quote Stenger, citizens deserve a “county free of embarrassments and scandals, at a minimum.”

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